We are a people who struggle with self-worth. I meet few people who are happy with who they are. We are the chronically under-valued and the terminally insecure. We have a tendency to look to other people for approval and live our lives in order to be loved. We tell our children to love themselves, but battle with self-loathing.
For years I considered myself a rebel, a person who lived outside the box, who didn’t give a damn about what others thought of him. Looking back it is easy to see how this was a coping mechanism, a way of finding acceptance, if only with myself, as a marginal personality who did not easily “play well with others”. If I couldn’t win at fitting in I would give the finger to the establishment and act as if their opinions did not matter. I gave the impression that I was vain, when in fact I was insecure.
I can see, now that I am getting older, the temptation within myself to act like a performance monkey. Seeking to fit in does not end after high school. We have been programmed since birth to base our feelings of self-worth on what others think of us and what we do. For some reason we are extremely conscious of the opinions of those around us. Those people who choose to criticize us may, in point of fact, be idiots and subjective to the highest degree but this seems to matter very little. Jumping through the hoops of people who don’t even respect is what we do.
There was a time in my life when it seemed important that people liked me. I was running a non-profit and had shareholders who were strongly opinionated and often very negative. I was always available to help salve their broken lives and marriages, and they were always available to critique my performance. I remember vividly one meeting with a couple at a local coffee shop wherein they decided that I needed to be “fixed”. It was to be the last of several meetings, all designed to help me come to grips with my glowering flaws (in their opinion). Late in the conversation it finally dawned on me, I didn’t even really like or respect this couple. I knew their dirty little secrets, their insecurities, their propensity to be condescending and arrogant. I realized that if we did not have a shared vested interest I would never want to be their friend or hang out with them… ever. I had been emotionally prostituting myself in order to appease them – something that now seemed impossible to do. My fear of their disapproval and perhaps disengagement from the non-profit had created a sick codependence.
It is one thing to seek to be kind and a person of integrity. It is another thing altogether to base your self-worth on the opinions of fallible and fickle people whose opinions should not matter. Wholeness is found in the realization that I cannot jump through enough hoops, suck up to enough people, to fill that hole in my heart that wants to be loved. Chasing that dragon is like chasing any other addiction, it just leaves us broken.
Accepting who and what I am, right now, is a daunting and difficult task. Letting go of our need to make everyone happy feels completely wrong. If people had to accept us for who we are would anyone still like us?
In counseling I admonish single clients, often fresh out of dysfunctional relationships, not to date until they don’t need to. They usually look at me funny and I find it necessary to explain – don’t bring your garbage to your next relationship. Don’t use that next person to fill that hole in your heart. Don’t depend on someone else to make you whole or happy. Don’t date… until you don’t need that person to fix anything. Become emotionally self-contained. Work on becoming whole.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?